Over 15 years ago, this article appeared in the March/April edition of SaudiAramco World.
Blessed is He who made constellations in the skies and placed therein a lamp and a moon giving light; and it is He who made the night and day to follow each other: For such as have the will to celebrate His praises or to show their gratitude.
The Qu’ran, Chapter XXV (Al-Funqan, The Criterion), Verses 61-62
Written and photographed by John Feeney
No one knows for certain when the use of children’s Ramadan lanterns began, but it is a very old Egyptian tradition. Indeed, lanterns and lamps of various kinds, of many hues and degrees of brightness, and even both real and imaginary, have always been special to Egypt. For centuries before the coming of electricity, Cairo itself was noted for its spectacular use of lanterns to illuminate the city, especially during the holy month of Ramadan.
Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim lunar year, is a time of fasting, blessings and prayers. It also commemorates the revelation of the first verses of the Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad.
As a way of giving thanks to God during this holy month, and as a way of unifying the worldwide community of believers, Muslims – with special exceptions for the sick, nursing mothers, pregnant women and travelers – spend the daylight hours fasting. The hours of the night, until dawn, are marked by prayers, ceremonial meals and celebration of the day’s spiritual victory over human desires. After sunset, streets and squares all over the Muslim world are thronged with people out buying food after the long day’s fast, or visiting friends, or preparing for sahur, the last meal of the night, which will be taken before dawn. It is then that young Cairenes, allowed to stay up late because of Ramadan, traditionally gather in groups of three or four to go out among the crowds, swinging their glowing lanterns and chanting their ancient song of Ramadan – just as children in other lands go caroling – hoping to receive in return a few nuts or sweets for their vocal efforts.
Passed on by children from generation to generation, the traditional song, in colloquial Egyptian Arabic, accompanies the swinging of the lanterns in the little ones’ hands. It goes like this:
Wahawi, ya wahawi
You have gone, O Sha’ban,
You have come, O Ramadan,
The daughter of the Sultan
is wearing her caftan,
For God the forgiver
Give us this season’s gift.
Some believe that the children’s lantern song comes all the way from Pharaonic times, like the ancient Egyptian song called O-Faleh in the Pharaonic tongue and al-Bahr Sa’id in Arabic (meaning “The River Has Risen”). In the days before the Aswan Dam was built, that song was sung by groups out in small boats on the night the Nile reached the peak of its annual flood. Certainly, the lantern song is very old, and very Egyptian.
The opening lines – “Wahawi ya, wahawi iyyahah” – have no known meaning. “You have gone, O Sha’ban” refers to the month that comes before Ramadan in the Muslims’ lunar hijri calendar, and “the daughter of the Sultan is wearing her caftan” means she is dressed in the garment worn when going out, maybe to the mosque. “Give us this season’s gift” refers to the small presents children receive from family and friends at the time of the ‘Id or holiday that follows the month of fasting.
In the days leading up to Ramadan, children become more insistent about having a lantern; many can hardly wait to start swinging and singing – for what child, from its earliest years, is not attracted by a glowing, magical lantern? Yet Cairo children may be the most “lantern-struck” of all: Recent research by Dr. Marsin Mahdi of Harvard University indicates that Scheherezade’s ‘Alaa’ al-Din (Aladdin) of the magic lamp may well have been a Cairo boy.
One week before Ramadan begins, part of Ahmad Maher Street, for most of the year a humble thoroughfare in the old medieval quarter of Cairo, is transformed. Usually home to tinsmiths, marble-cutters and makers of mousetraps, for one glorious month it becomes “The Street of the Lanterns.”
Filmmaker John Feeney, who has lived in Cairo for a quarter century, is a long-time contributor toAramco World. He wishes to thank Laila Ibrahim, renowned authority on Mamluk Egypt, for her help with this article.
This article appeared on pages 14-23 of the March/April 1992 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.
You can read the rest of this fascinating article HERE.
I love the Ramadan lanterns. I’ve been to Cairo, and found the heat and the teeming population, the gridlocked traffic and all the begging a little scary. But I would go back in a heartbeat to see this street of lanterns!
For my non-Muslim readers, I found a wonderful site while researching Ramadan lanterns that gives a simple overview of Ramadan: Hamad El Afandi’s Ramadan Kareem. It is heavily illustrated with photos.
The fish must be running today. When I got up, there were about 25 fishing boats, the old fashioned shuwi. just off the coast. Sorry, they are about a kilometer off the shore, so I can’t get a great photo. I found a photo at agmgifts however, that shows what the boats look like:
Weather Underground says it’s going to be 118° F/ 48°C today – how can they bear it? Some of the boats have no cover? How can they be out under the hot, scorching sun with no cover?
For my non-Kuwait readers, this is a very special weekend, a Thursday-Friday-Saturday weekend, to celebrate the shift to a Friday – Saturday weekend. It has been a long time coming; Kuwait is one of the last countries in the Gulf to make the shift. We were also living in Qatar when the shift to Friday – Saturday happened, but in Qatar, there was no uproar. Here, some people were outraged, saying that Saturday was the Jewish day, and it was a fire-and-brimstone kind of sin to take a day off on the Jewish day.
The government announced the weekend would switch to Friday-Saturday, and then the National Assembly announced that no, it wouldn’t, it would remain Thursday – Friday. Then the government offices started sending out notices to the people working there, and to customers, etc. giving new working hours, and here we go, Friday – Saturday. I am hearing rumors that even Saudi Arabia is considering the change, the last great hold out.
It brings the working week into closer alignment with the rest of the world, having more business days in common. It will make the traffic in Kuwait even worse than it already is.
I’m back in the project room, no TV and for some reason my radio isn’t bringing in BBC so I am listening to 99.7, with which I have a love/hate relationship.
I could swear I have heard the same exact sound track a year ago. I’m pretty sure music has moved on, and occasionally I will hear something dating within the last three months, but a lot of the music seems pretty old to me.
There is one thing that really bugs me. There is a song in which there is a line that includes the words “buck naked banging on the bathroom floor.” The censors have evidently decided that “buck” is a BAD word because while you are listening to the song, what you hear is something like “there we were _______ naked banging on the bathroom floor.” When I hear it, it cracks me up, but at the same time, how annoying!
(Buck naked is another way of saying bare naked: bare-na·ked (bârnkd, -nkd)
adv. & adj. Chiefly Northern U.S. With no clothes on.
Regional Note: The chiefly Northern U.S. expression bare-naked illustrates the linguistic process of redundancy, not always acceptable in Standard English but productive in regional dialect speech. A redundant expression combines two words that mean the same thing, thereby intensifying the effect. The expression buck-naked, used chiefly in the South Atlantic and Gulf states, is not as clear as bare-naked with respect to its origin; buck is possibly an alteration of butt, “buttocks.” If so, bum-naked, heard in various parts of the country, and bare-ass(ed), attested especially in the Northeastern U.S., represent the same idea.
From The Free Dictionary)
My husband listens to 99.7 (I think it calls itself Radio Kuwait) during drive time in the morning, and said that the other day they talked with the meteorologist at the Kuwait airport, who gave the weather forecast but then went into a long thing about which stars are visible, and how back in the not-so-distant past the desert Kuwaitis would watch for this star to appear, because they knew it preceded the cooling temperatures. They called it the “Yemeni star.” I think my husband told me why, but I can’t remember.
How totally cool. You keep your ears open, and even on 99.7 you can learn something.
A friend sent this to me in an e-mail today. I know I have been invisible, and some of you may relate to it, too. It’s long, but well worth the read.
It started to happen gradually.
One day I was walking my son Jake to school. I was holding his hand and we
were about to cross the street when the crossing guard said to him, ‘Who is
that with you, young fella?’
‘Nobody,’ he shrugged.
Nobody? The crossing guard and I laughed. My son is only 5, but as we
crossed the street I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, nobody?’
I would walk into a room and no one would notice. I would say something to
my family – like ‘Turn the TV down, please’ – and nothing would happen.
Nobody would get up, or even make a move for the remote. I would stand there
for a minute, and then I would say again, a little louder, ‘Would someone
turn the TV down?’ Nothing.
Just the other night my husband and I were out at a party. We’d been there
for about three hours and I was ready to leave. I noticed he was talking to
a friend from work. So I walked over, and when there was a break in the
conversation, I whispered, ‘I’m ready to go when you are.’ He just kept
right on talking.
That’s when I started to put all the pieces together. I don’t think he can
see me. I don’t think anyone can see me.
It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the
way one of the kids will walk into the room while I’m on the phone and ask
to be taken to the store. Inside I’m thinking, ‘Can’t you see I’m
on the phone?’ Obviously not. No one can see if I’m on the phone, or cooking, or
sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no
one can see me at all.
Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: Can you fix this? Can
you tie this? Can you open this?
Some days I’m not a pair of hands; I’m not even a human being. I’m a
clock to ask, ‘What time is it?’ I’m a satellite guide to answer, ‘What
number is the Disney Channel?’ I’m a car to order, ‘Right around 5:30, please.’
I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that
studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude – but now they
had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again.
She’s going… she’s going… she’s gone!
One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a
friend from England Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and
she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting
there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard
not to compare and feel sorry for myself as I looked down at my
out-of-style dress; it was the only thing I could find that was clean. My
unwashed hair was pulled up in a banana clip and I was afraid I could
actually smell peanut butter in it. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when
Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, ‘I
brought you this.’
It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe I wasn’t exactly sure why
she’d given it to me until I read her inscription: ‘To Charlotte , with
admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.’
In the days ahead I would read – no, devour – the book. And I would
discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which
I could pattern my work:
No one can say who built the great cathedrals – we have no record of
These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never
They made great sacrifices and expected no credit.
The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the
eyes of God saw everything.
A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the
cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny
bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, ‘Why are you
spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will covered by the
roof? No one will ever see it.’ And the workman replied, ‘Because God sees.’
I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was
almost as if I heard God whispering to me, ‘I see you, Charlotte. I see
the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act
of kindness you’ve done, no sequin you’ve sewn on, no cupcake you’ve
is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great
cathedral, but you can’t see right now what it will become.’
At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a
disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own
self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride.
I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one
of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to
work on something that their name will never be on. The writer of the book
went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our
lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that
When I really think about it, I don’t want my son to tell the friend he’s
bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, ‘My mom gets up at 4 in the
morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for three
hours and presses all the linens for the table.’
That would mean I’d built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him
to want to come home.
And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add,
‘You’re gonna love it there.’
As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we’re
doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will
marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been
added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women.
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s
Spirit lives in you?” I Cor.3:16
I found this article this morning on AOL Health
I am always looking for hope. This doctor, in an article from Prevention Magazine says even heavy people can have healthy hearts by including 10 minutes of exercise into their daily routine; that the biggest danger comes from belly fat, which impedes circulation. Your weight may stay the same, but if belly fat decreases, you have gained in fitness.
In my practice, I’ve seen a number of overweight patients virtually eliminate their heart disease risk by losing just a few pounds. This is, of course, wonderful news. I believe that most of us, by employing a few simple lifestyle changes, can avoid having a heart attack, and I intend to use this space every month to help you do that. But while I delight in my patients’ successes, some of them are dissatisfied by minimal weight loss and tell me they “just want to be thin.” In reaching for that goal, they often inadvertently sabotage the newfound cardiovascular fitness that losing just a little weight can provide.
Fitter in 10 minutes
Are you surprised to learn that you can be fit and, to put it indelicately, fat? Many doctors I know are startled to hear this, too. But the latest research, out of Louisiana State University, shows that overweight women can improve their heart health by adding just 10 minutes of activity a day.
In that study, researchers asked more than 400 sedentary women with high or borderline-high blood pressure to add a short bout of moderately intense activity, such as brisk walking, to their daily routines for 6 months. Although the women as a group neither lost weight nor lowered their blood pressure, they ended up fitter, as measured by their oxygen intake, and – this is the really important part – their waistlines got smaller. That’s significant because belly, or visceral, fat is linked to insulin resistance, a contributor to heart disease. You can reach this level of fitness without losing a pound.
You can read the whole article HERE.
Thanks to all of you who have been asking for updates on The Qatteri Cat. He finds himself very busy these days, in fact, as you can see, fully extended with all his activities.
He helps me with my projects. He helps me with my household chores, especially keeping the Qatteri Cat fed and watered. He works hard to keep Adventure Man fit, waiting by the door for him to return from work and forcing him to run and chase, or to throw his ball. He is a constand companion, day and night. At night, he is the watch cat, alerting us to every strange noise, and, from time to time opening the door-to-the-world so that I can get MY exercise, running after him as he escapes.
So here, for you, is where you will typically find the Qatteri Cat:
Just two weeks ago, I wrote about the subtle changes, the feeling of Fall in the air. I take it all back! This week, with temperatures back up in the 120′s F. (49 – 50 C.) it feels like summer and this scorching heat will never end.
Oh! Did I mention the humidity? Late in the afternoon, the windows will totally fog, as if someone has showered in the room, except that all the moisture is on the outside. Whew! I go outside, and I DRIP with moisture!
WeatherUnderground says it will cool later in the week. . . down to like, you know, 113 F./45 C. Good weather for staying inside and eating salads.
I found this among BBC’s Most E-mailed stories and I can see why. Holy smokes! Adventure Man and I have gone greatly, but not totally, meatless. Sometimes, we just can’t resist. About once every three months or so, we just have to have a steak or a hamburger, but mostly, we try to eat lower on the food chain. Good thing I LOVE salmon. And those hammour kofte they make at the Sultan Center on the weekends. Ummmm . . . . hmmmmm. Can you eat fish and be vegetarian?
Intelligent children are more likely to become vegetarians later in life, a study says.
A Southampton University team found those who were vegetarian by 30 had recorded five IQ points more on average at the age of 10.
Researchers said it could explain why people with higher IQ were healthier as a vegetarian diet was linked to lower heart disease and obesity rates.
Read the whole story HERE.
Talk was desultory as the book club broke up, several women had already left when Hannah hit us with this bombshell. It was a most puzzling statement. We had all passed Hamad in the hallway on our way to bookclub. He would greet us gruffly, but not really look at us as we buzzed into the women’s diwaniyya.
“What are you talking about?” popped up Lena, never at a loss for words. “How can you miss Hamad? He’s right here!”
Hannah exchanged glances with Diana, also married to a Kuwaiti. They grinned, ruefully.
“You’ve only been back a week,” Diana said.
“Yes, but I MISS that sweet, loving husband. When we are away, he turns back into the delightful, charming man I married! He holds my hand, he takes me out for dinner, it’s like when we first met! He’s a different man! Oh, how I miss him! And we’ve only been back a week.” She echoed Diana.
“And is he playing the ‘ayb’ card?” she asked? “‘Ayb’ how you walk around the house, ‘ayb’ how you smile too much, ‘ayb’ here, ‘ayb’ there, ‘ayb ayb’ everywhere?”
They started giggling. Others joined in, their giggles were so infectious. Soon, the seven women remaining from the book club meeting were gasping for air, they were laughing so hard.
“I’ve stopped changing!” Hannah hooted! “Every time I changed what he asked, he found something new!”
And the laughter started again – it’s an international group, and the critical husband thing is something that is easily understood by women of all nations.
“I want him back!” Hannah moaned, weak from laughter. “I want my Hamad back!”
Ten days ago I was taking a new friend around the old souks and I showed her Hussein and Ali, on the corner across from the main entrance to the Heritage Souk area, where a lot of expats buy carpets.
One week later, downtown with Adventure Man – Hussein and Ali’s shop is gone. The sign is down, the shutters are closed and it looks like they are never coming back.
Have they moved? Does anyone know what happened? Did they lose their lease?